Death, Time and Grief | A Film Review of A Ghost Story

The older we get the faster time moves. It waits for no man, as the saying goes, but what if that only applies to the living? How does time treat the dead? How does it treat their memories, the spaces they occupy and all that they leave behind? David Lowery’s A Ghost Story seeks to answer these unanswerable questions.

The film focusses on an unnamed couple played by Casey Affleck and Rooney Mara. They are moving from their ramshackle semi-rural house to a more urban space. Affleck’s character is tragically killed in a car accident before they can move and he comes back as a ghost. He returns to their house and silently watches as Mara’s character moves on, moves out and time speeds up. 

The ghost is quite literally Casey Affleck under a bed sheet with holes for the eyes. Any kind of humour or childishness traditionally associated with this costume forms no part of the film however. His presence is mournful, meditative, and occasionally malicious. The ghost doesn’t want to be dead and vindictively seeks to drive future occupants of the house away. A Ghost Story spends little time on the grief Mara’s character feels and instead asks how time treats the dead.

The film flips between the past, present and future but grounds the ghost on the same plot of land he so loved when he was alive. Both physical and temporal spaces come into play from a field to a house to a sprawling cityscape. Time passes in the blink of an eye for the ghost. One moment his house is there the next foundations for a huge skyscraper are being laid. As the wheel of time spins ceaselessly on memories and places are ground to dust beneath it leaving only the ghost: a character long forgotten in a story no one cared to write down.

Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story. - HeadStuff.org
Rooney Mara in A Ghost Story. Source

The film is, thankfully, not all moody silences and wide shots of the ancient bungalow. Daniel Hart’s score fills scenes where there is only silence. Where music doesn’t play the wind echoes like the last strains of a dirge. Lowery’s and cinematographer Andrew Droz Palermo’s attention to detail is obsessive. From a single, barely visible teardrop glittering on the end of Rooney Mara’s nose to Affleck’s rigid movements right up to the claustrophobic aspect ratio of 1:33:1, Lowery refuses to let any detail slip by him. If there is one criticism that can be levelled at A Ghost Story it is that it’s story is quite predictable. Once time begins to slip and blur it becomes quite clear where the story is going.

Whether they exist or not, ghosts occupy every space imaginable. Ghosts of the past, those in our brains’ memory vaults or those in the very foundations of our buildings all have a place in the real world floating bed sheet or not. What Lowery seeks to do in A Ghost Story is give these ghosts a physical and memorable presence in spaces we are usually comfortable in and he does so with great success. A Ghost Story is one film that will not be forgotten for a long, long time.

A Ghost Story is in cinemas from Friday 11th August.


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